What is “too loud”?


By: Colten Cashmore, UWO Health Advocate

Has there ever been a day where you have had your headphones in all day or at least for a few hours straight? It seems to be something that is happening very frequently on college campuses. Students often study, walk to class, work out and sometimes sleep with headphones in. After so much noise all day, it wouldn’t be uncommon for your ears to be buzzing or ringing by the end of the day. But this is one sign that your headphones have been in too long, or your music was too loud.

Sound is measured in units called decibels. Zero decibels is the level that a young person with normal hearing can detect. The human ear can hear up to levels of 140 decibels, however, anything above 85 decibels puts our ears at risk.

To put in perspective how loud a decibel is:

  • The average computer lab is usually 35-45 decibels.
  • Televisions, louder music and headphone can be as high as 100 decibels.
  • Very loud concert or planes taking off average around 130 decibels.

The ear is able to hear things through tiny hairs that are bundled within the ear. When sound hits these bundles, it causes them to vibrate so that the brain will recognize the sound. These hair cells are very fragile, loud sounds can damage them or even kill them altogether. If these hairs are killed the damage is permanent and the hairs never grow back.

As these hairs start to die, people start to gradually lose hearing and can be unable to hear certain pitches and tones of sounds. Hair cells that respond to high-pitched sounds tend to die off first. In addition to chronic noise, there can be large amount of damage to the ear hairs when encountering loud, unexpected noises.

Individuals can also develop selective hearing, which is when your ears start to block out certain sounds to prevent further damage. But hearing damage isn’t the only risk that loud noises pose, noises can impact you in many ways you might not know:

  • They can distract you when you are trying to work or listen.
  • Loud noise can distracts learning and how well you learn.
  • Noises can also keep people from sleeping or getting enough quality sleep.
  • Loud noises can even stress the body, leading to elevated blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

So next time you are about to study, walk to class, or run with your headphones, think about the damage you could be causing to your ears and body and turn the volume down.

Raloff, Janet. “Explainer: When Loud Becomes Dangerous.” Science News for Students, 28 Oct. 2016